The secrets of a lovely Christmas
“Nibble, nibble, like a mouse,
Who is nibbling at my house?”
Everybody remembers the story of Hansel and Gretel, the two poor children – left behind in the forest – who found a little house of gingerbread made by a wicked witch to lure them.
It is originally a German fairytale and the most famous version is the one of the brothers Grimm.
Nowadays – as the cold wind whispers through the trees – children still hang on your lips listening to this beautiful old story warming themselves by the stove. They mostly dream away at the piece of the story when Hansel and Gretel are eating from the biscuits, pancakes and sugar that is sticking to the cottage.
If you are willing to tell the story and you want to wrap your house in the right mood, you can either make figure cookies to hang in the Christmas tree or really imitate the cottage of the wicked witch. Therefore you can use gingerbread or, maybe even easier, you can use – as the Swedes call it – ‘pepparkakor’.
The so-called pepparkaka are crunchy cookies made of ginger and cinnamon. It is a Swedish tradition to consume them around Christmas. Many people are baking them on winter evenings but if you think of yourself you are not such a good baker, you can also use (to build the little house) the Swedish Annas Original Ginger Thins. For many Swedes the ginger thin has become something of a national biscuit which is often eaten during the ‘fika’ or the coffee pause. Annas Pepparkakor comes in different tastes such as the just mentioned Original Ginger Thins, but also the Almond Thins, the Cappuccino Thins and the Orange Thins.
Her story goes back to 1929 when in the Östermalm district of Stockholm two sisters, Anna and Emma Karlsson, started a home bakery. The sisters baked ginger thins and other small pastries which fell in the flavor of many people. The thins became popular and the bakery expanded rapidly.
In November 2008 the company was bought up by the Belgian Lotus Bakeries. And now Annas is sold in over 20 different countries. The recipe for Annas Pepparkakor is a well-kept secret containing the traditional spices cinnamon, ginger and cloves. If you want to buy a ready-made cottage to decorate at home, you can very easy find the appropriate cookies at the Ikea company during the Christmas season. Thus you can immediately get started.
Where does the name ‘pepparkakor’ (Pepparkaka in plural) comes from?
Peppar means pepper in Swedish and kakor means cookie or biscuit. Although the modern pepparkakor does not contain pepper, there are old recipes dating back as far as 1444 where there was pepper in the recipes. In those days, pepper was one of the most important commodities from the Orient. For a long time pepper was also considered to have a medically calming effect and was used for digestive problems.
That ginger thins are called Pepparkakor in Swedish may also have its explanation in the fact that pepper was the popular name for all exotic spices and the real meaning was spicy biscuits.
As I already mentioned, pepparkakor can be eaten in Sweden at any coffee break. But it is also often served with Glögg which is Swedish mulled wine. Or you can perhaps eat it while drinking a glass of milk. These crispy cookies become instantly household favorites.
As it is said they help to alleviate indigestion and stomach discomfort, they can be served at the rich Christmas table. They would make you gentler and kinder. This reputation survives in the traditional pepparkakor invitation: “Ät en pepparkaka, sä blir du snäll”” or “eat a gingersnap, it will make you nice!”
Last but not least a secret to conclude the story: pepparkakor is also known as a make-a-wish biscuit. There is a small game played with it that has survived many centuries. You place a thin biscuit on the palm of your hand and press it in the middle. If the thin biscuit breaks into three pieces, you can make a silent wish for something you want to come true…